Fracked Up

Early in September 2018, the House of Representatives began to debate a new bill, H.R. 4606, or the Ensuring Small Scale LNG Certainty and Access Act. This bill opens up a marketplace for small scale LNG export by allowing applications to the Department of Energy for small volume trades of LNG to be approved without any review by regulatory agencies. This, the bill’s sponsors argue, will expedite the sale of American LNG products, thereby bolstering the economy and promoting growth in jobs involved in the production and transport of LNG products.

LNG is shorthand for liquid natural gas, an energy source that the United States produces in large quantities. In fact, the American production of natural gas products and technologies, including transport and storage equipment, is far ahead of what can be exported. House representatives on the Congressional Natural Gas Caucus assert that this surplus of natural gas products represents a potential boon to the American economy. This caucus argues that an export economy for natural gas would be a pathway toward their ultimate goal of American energy independence. Many House representatives on both sides of the aisle seem to agree with this assertion, with the bill quickly amassing widespread, bipartisan support in both the House and the Senate.

The support for this legislation does not take into account, however, how this surplus of natural gas products was amassed. Natural gas is extracted using a method known as hydraulic fracking, known as fracking colloquially. This process involves pumping water, sand and other corrosive chemicals into bedrock at high pressure to break up the bedrock, freeing the natural gas for extraction. This technique, paired with new drilling technologies, has led to a new oil boom in the midwest and mid-Atlantic. While this boom in the energy economy has been profitable, there have been causes for concern. Residents in states with big fracking operations have suffered from huge increases in seismic activity and water a

nd air pollution. Critics of fracking see a strong correlation between the boom in fracking in the United States and these public health crises.

With these concerns in mind, it stands to reason that any legislation regarding the production and sale of LNG products should consider public health data related to this production. But, worryingly, this bill does not address any of these concerns. Instead, the bill undermines attempts to monitor the effects of fracking and LNG trade by removing any regulatory review process that would ensure that this marketplace is safe. Although this deregulation is the prevailing legislative agenda, it seems to come at the cost of public health. We the Scientists warn of this deliberate ignorance, because the benefits of fracking do not offset the harm caused by earthquakes and asthma.

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